President Trump’s visit to the UK, Ireland, and France at the beginning of June provided another opportunity to reflect on the health of the transatlantic relationship. The situation is considerably different from July last year for both sides, the US and Europe. While the US may have a less pliant US Congress, the failure of the Mueller report to discredit Trump, combined with a strong domestic economy, has made him popular, a favourite to win the next 2020 election. Meanwhile, Europe has grown weaker rather than stronger over the same period.
Specifically, on the international stage, France, Germany and the UK have been unable to make any headway in resisting the growing stranglehold that renewed US sanctions are imposing on European companies that might have wanted to follow their governments’ effort to sustain trade relations with Iran under the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Similarly, Europeans have watched powerlessly from the sidelines as the US has ratcheted up its tariffs on Chinese exports to the US. Yet, Europeans are more exposed than the US to a slowdown in the Chinese and global economies, as exports constitute a much larger share of their combined GDP.
In general, it is more true that Europeans hold no sway and have no say over US foreign policy decisions that many believe run counter to their interests. It seems that the Europeans and their companies are being forced to serve as agents of these policies. However, the Europeans may have some sense of consolation, having some powers at least in two areas. The first is on setting rules that most multinational companies, including those from the US, follow across a number of key policy areas, from data protection to anti-corruption to protection of human rights. The second is in international trade negotiations, where the EU has sustained a programme of trade opening negotiations in parallel to Trump’s aggressive efforts to gain a unilateral advantage over its most important trade partners.
To that end, US companies and farmers have now discovered that the recent EU trade agreement with Japan has decreased the price competitiveness of US exports in both markets. At the same time, the UK‘s situation remains complicated. The next prime minister will be caught between the reality of the UK’s low credibility as an independent actor during its endless exit from the EU and the desire of a large part of its public and body politic to see the country demonstrate some of its past self-assurance. Caught between these crosscurrents, President Trump’s visit to the UK was the (perhaps missed) moment for British policy-makers to follow David Cameron’s rhetorical advice from 11 September 2006 to show that Britain would be a ‘solid but not slavish ally’ to the US.
‚The Struggle of Managing Trump‘ – Commentary by Robin Niblett – Chatham House / The Royal Institute of International Affairs.